Monday, September 28, 2009


I am always reticent to comment on the military. I am humbled and more than a little intimidated by their sacrifice and commitment. All week I've fretted over the words I would employ to describe Jeffery Hess' anthology. Who am I to question the motives or character of anyone in service to our country? But I think that's the point of HOME OF THE BRAVE:STORIES IN UNIFORM. I may tear up over Marine commercials and catch my breath at the presentation of the flag before Sunday Night Football, but there's a truth behind the drama; there are real people behind the romantic generalization.

Jeffery Hess has assembled a diverse collection. The stories involve characters and conflicts as varied as the narrative voices. Their is the common theme of military service, but that's the only thing some of these characters have in common. For those civilian readers who think they cannot relate to the intentions and motivations of military characters, Hess proves them wrong. There is not a single story in HOME OF THE BRAVE:STORIES IN UNIFORM I did not enjoy and want to share.

I always get excited when I stumble upon a second person narrator--a brilliant perspective for a military subject. It makes the plot of Amber Dermont's "Assembling the Troops" seem inevitable. It shifts blame from the characters as in Robert O'Connor's heroin addicts in "Buffalo Soldiers--Chapter 1."

Maybe I'm wrong, but I like to think for most affiliated with the armed forces, dedication is at the forefront of their intention to serve our country. Jeffery Hess reveals there is a depth and humanity to sacrifice and duty. Hess recently received a well deserved Gold Medal for Best Anthology by the Military Writers Society of America.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of HOME OF THE BRAVE: STORIES IN UNIFORM are donated to USA Cares, a nonprofit established to provide post-9/11 military families with financial and advocacy support in their time of need.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Note on Procrastination.....

I was always the girl feverishly hacking away on her computer through the wee hours the night before a research paper comes due. I once spent an entire day nursing a newborn infant in one arm while writing a short story with the other. Procrastination is my M.O., though I always pay for this defect of character,(sometimes it's as little as typographical errors, sometimes it's damage to my left breast). Two weeks ago, I kept putting off my blogging commitment, and what did I get? Flash flooding and a loss of internet!

In the interim I have baked batches upon batches of cookies with my rain-trapped kids, cleaned the windows with vinegar water, and, inspired by our recent raging storms and swirling rain, I finally read WUTHERING HEIGHTS (no one ever told me Heathcliff was such a capital A-hole, and don't get me started on that brat, Catherine...). I also finished John Ehle's MOVE OVER MOUNTAIN and HOME OF THE BRAVE edited by Jeffery Hess, (blogs to follow).

So, please, forgive me, Kevin and friends, and have a cookie.

Friday, September 11, 2009

SPRINGTIME ON MARS "Radio Vision" Susan Woodring

Eight years ago today, at about this exact time, I was sitting on my back porch steps drinking a cup of tea, watching the dawn of a beautiful late summer/early fall day, feeling my baby bump against my ribs and do back flips on my bladder. As moments go, it was a good one. A few minutes later I was gripped in hysteria, desperate not to give birth. I suddenly felt so vulnerable and unprotected and irresponsible for bringing a new life into an evil world.

Some could say President Kennedy's assassination shocked a naive nation. It also awoke conspiracy theories of lurking Russians and cloaked Cubans. "Radio Vision" tells the story of one woman's efforts to return to the mundane, the "comforting efficiency" (I love that line), after national tragedy and hysteria.

Susan Woodring engages the reader with insightful parallels. The character Marianne Binger is more relatable to the reader than Jackie Kennedy: same age, same number of children, wife of a public figure, chain smoker. Marianne is also as ambivalent about her community status as a minister's wife as we now know the first lady was. The most telling parallel exists in the tragic interruption of Marianne's everyday chores, like being caught mid-wave in the backseat of a convertible.

Marianne Binger's children are our own oblivious consciousness. They continue on with everyday rebellions while trauma and horror await right under their noses, and they expose the guilt that comes from not knowing. Woodring reminds us in her haunting narrative that life goes on, and we have more to fear in our own homes than from any conspiracy theory or terrorist. For when one asks Marianne's boys where they were when Kennedy was shot, they won't think of the convertible or the mysterious second gunman or even the young son's salute in his blue seersucker suit; they'll think of their mother at the bottom of the stairs.

I would never claim to know a thing about sociology or psychology. I can't expound on economic effect or public consciousness. I only really remember the stories, the personal stories of people who caught a plane at the last minute, barely made it to work on time after the holiday weekend, stopped to get a cup of coffee and got stuck in line long enough to save their lives. And then there are the people who live a thousand miles away from New York, DC, and Pennsylvania who never knew anyone to die that day but hung up their flag all the same, kept the news on for 3 straight weeks, ditched an NFL dream to join the fight. Congressional reports and Oliver Stone movies aside, the personal stories, like Marianne Binger's in "Radio Vision", are the ones I hope to remember.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


In the year and half since we relocated to Atlanta, I have not felt displaced. This city suits me. Like me, Atlanta has no idea what it wants to be or where it wants to go. It meanders around in circles, and eventually I get where I need to be. I think I might have found my town.

At least I thought so, until I read SEARCHING FOR VIRGINIA DARE. Now I find myself downright homesick. My second grader is studying the great state of Georgia, and I have an overwhelming desire to take her to the Outer Banks, show her the Elizabethan Gardens, Tryon Palace, Old Salem. The other day she asked me what Krispy Kreme was! What have I done!?

Perhaps more disturbing is my discovery that she will not learn a thing about Virginia Dare. Virginia Dare does not belong just to North Carolina. She was the first English child born in America, though she was lost to history just a few days after her birth in 1587 when her grandfather, the expedition's governor, left his destitute colonists and family behind to return to England for supplies. Three years later he returned to ransacked, abandoned huts and a cryptic message carved on a tree that still remains a mystery.

Marjorie Hudson chronicles history's attempt to solve the mystery of our first colonists, from Depression era plays, a French sculptress's obsession,an epic poem, and modern archaeological digs to her own quest through the Great Dismal Swamp and into the overlooked world of the Lumbee Tribe. There are libraries devoted to the Lost Colony, but what sets Hudson's effort apart is her connection to the child, Virgina Dare. Hudson opens her heart to the reader, immersing herself in this story as old as our nation. It is difficult not to get swept away with her compassion. She relates her own trials, her own family history, her own maternal desires and brings us closer to those who sacrificed everything to become legend and to the daughter that vanished with them.

Hudson's conclusion is optimistic, but logical. In the same spin it is ironic in that it ties the first Americans to the most displaced Native American tribe, the Lumbees. SEARCHING FOR VIRGINIA DARE lands in your own backyard, where you least expect.

North Carolina is studied by every 4th grade student in the Old North State. My 4th grade teacher was fanatical. We memorized every date, every symbol. We jogged the miles from Murphey to Manteo on the schoolyard track. My education of the Lost Colony, however, cast Virginia Dare as a mere infant, important in statistics only as the first English child. Marjorie Hudson has made Virginia so much more to me. She is our first missing child.